Why wouldn’t Jesus put His arm around the Pharisees and say: “Great effort on the law-keeping guys. You got a few things wrong. Let me redirect you a little bit, but keep up the good work.”
He did not say this. Oh Contraire! Jesus blasted them because, rather than being innocently ignorant of His identity and a little misguided, most of the Pharisees were willfully spiritually blind. They were duplicitous in front of the crowd, but Jesus told them exactly what they got wrong in an epic smack-down found in Matthew chapter 23.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Matthew 23:13-15
I have always thought the Pharisees simply didn’t recognize their Messiah. Their ignorance seemed innocent, since they were expecting a political savior who would overthrow Rome. Wouldn’t it have been a better strategy to pull them aside in private and prove to them using facts and Scripture that Jesus was their promised Savior?
On my three-year trek through the gospel of John, my eyes were opened to a sinister truth. The blindness of the Pharisees toward their Messiah was not confusion or ignorance. It was willful spiritual blindness for the sake of protecting their money and power. Like Herod in Matthew 2:1-6, they recognized Him. That’s why they wanted to kill Him.
The blindness of the Pharisees toward their Messiah was not confusion or ignorance. It was willful spiritual blindness for the sake of protecting their money and power.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:’ –Matthew 2:1-6 (emphasis mine)
When Herod (and all of Jerusalem!!!) heard that the Messiah had been born, instead of being excited, they were disturbed! What? Why would all of Jerusalem be disturbed that their Messiah was born? For whatever reason (willful spiritual blindness perhaps?), Herod believed he could make this Messiah ineligible by killing Him in infancy.
Thirty years later, not much had changed. Politics and corruption are nothing new. People will grab at whatever they can to discredit a leader they are against, throw the masses into confusion with talking points, and attempt to remove him from power.
John chapter seven records the confusion and ignorance of the crowd as they discussed Jesus’s identity among themselves. They turned to their trusted religious leaders for answers, but the Pharisees kept their knowledge of Jesus to themselves and intentionally lied to the crowds about His birthplace, His lineage, and His miracles.
It would not be difficult to find out where Jesus was born. The Jews were meticulous record keepers. In fact, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census. The first thing the Pharisees would look into, if they were trying to discover if Jesus was the Messiah, would be his birthplace. The second would be His lineage. When they found that He was indeed born in Bethlehem and from the line of David(on both parents’ sides)—they kept it quiet. Instead they proclaimed that a prophet does not come from Galilee.
Every time someone got close to coming to the conclusion they should have come to about Jesus, the Pharisees were right there to bully them away from Him:
“Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” –John 7:52
They knew most people would not look into it.
PRIDE–THE ANCIENT ENEMY
Willful spiritual blindness goes all the way back to Cain in Genesis chapter four. God had told Cain and Abel what He required for relationship with Him. Abel obeyed and brought a sacrificial lamb. But Cain wanted to bring the fruit of his own labor. Even though he knew it was required, he wanted to get to God without a blood sacrifice. He was angry when God was not impressed with the work of his hands. He killed Abel because he couldn’t kill God.
The Pharisees wanted to get to God, also on their own terms—terms that would allow them to keep their power, their money and their secret sins. They did not want to go through Jesus. Both Cain and the Pharisees thought they could approach God with external works and hard hearts—and without a sacrificial lamb.
Willful spiritual blindness denies evidence. The Pharisees didn’t want this Messiah in spite of all the evidence proving who He was. They didn’t want to believe. Like Herod, they desired to kill Him, thinking if they succeeded, He would be ineligible to be the Messiah. Like Herod, they wanted to protect their power and their pocketbooks.
Deuteronomy 21:23 says: “Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.” If they killed Him, and hung Him on a tree, they thought He would be ineligible to be the Messiah, since He would be under God’s curse.
What they didn’t realize is that this was part of the plan. Jesus would be the ultimate sacrificial lamb, providing a covering for sin, and acceptance from the Father, for anyone who believes.
Nowadays, one can hardly distinguish between a true Christian church and the Mormon tabernacle down the street. Once you join the Mormons, you are in their club. But then you must step onto a hamster wheel of performance that doesn’t stop turning until you die–and doesn’t earn you anything.
There is nothing the enemy loves more, than to get Christians’ minds off of the work that was done on their behalf. He loves to fill them with pride and competition so that they exhaust themselves, bringing their own works to the table to receive acceptance that they already have. Step off the wheel my friend, and beware of spiritual bullies. It is already finished!
“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.’” –John 6:29
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